Whether you are an instructor or a consultant, drones or small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) have something to offer everyone ̶ from helping hobbyists get their aerial selfies, to helping biologists monitor bird nesting sites. But before you use your sUAS for any commercial or business purposes, you must first register your aircraft, which must be less than 55 pounds, and pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 107 Knowledge Exam. This article is written by two college instructors with no aviation background who recently passed the Knowledge Exam in order to help demystify the process of getting your remote pilot certificate and becoming a sUAS operator.
What is Part 107?
Part 107, also known as the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, came into effect August 29, 2016, and governs the operation of small unmanned aircraft used for commercial purposes.
To become a commercial sUAS operator under the Part 107 rule, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Have good command of the English language.
- Be physically and mentally fit to operate a sUAS.
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam, (i.e., Part 107 Knowledge Exam), at an FAA approved testing facility, and
- Be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration. You must bring proper identification, which includes your photograph, signature and date of birth with you on the day of the exam.
The Knowledge Exam consists of roughly 60 multiple choice questions. Although the test preparation materials and our test registration clerk informed us that there would be 60 questions, we had about 65 questions on our exams. Each question has three answer choices and one correct answer. According to the FAA, 15-25 percent of the questions cover regulations, 15-25 percent cover airspace and requirements, 11-16 percent cover weather, 7-11 percent cover loading and performance, and 35-45 percent cover operations.
10 Tips for Passing the Knowledge Test:
- Note that not all tests are the same. A colleague and I took our Knowledge Exam at the same time, at the same location, sitting next to each other. When we compared notes after the exam, it was apparent that we had very different questions, so study the sample questions online, but do not use them as an absolute.
- Make use of the free resources and practices tests online. These tests definitely helped build our confidence and gave us a sense of what to expect. However, as we have already mentioned, do not think of the sample questions as an absolute. In our opinion, the actual test questions were more difficult, as they tend to have trickier answer choices than the online sample questions.
- Know your symbols and figures. Several questions on the exam will refer to symbols and figures in the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement Book. You will be tested on the symbols for different types of airports, airspace classes, the ceilings and floors of different airspace classes and more.
- Know what materials will be provided to you during the test (e.g., the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement Book) to help reduce the amount of materials you need to memorize. The supplement book not only contains the figures that you will need to answer some of the test questions, but also includes the legend to help you in answering questions about sectional aeronautical charts and airport communication protocol.
- Do not overthink the easier questions. We made some simple mistakes on our exams that we truly kicked ourselves about later. We were so entangled and absorbed by a few of the trickier questions that it caused us to overthink some of the subsequent simpler questions. Do not overthink the easy ones. Instead, it will be wise to skip over some of the harder or trickier questions and revisit them later. We also highly recommend reviewing your test and answer choices after you are done with the exam.
- Do not freak out over unexpected questions. Each of us completed at least 300 sample exam questions online before taking the exam, looked over the FAA study guide, and completed an online prep course, but we were still surprised by a good 10-15 percent of the questions that were on the exam. Keep in mind that you need only 70 percent in order to pass the exam. Also remember that a lot of the training materials online were created before the FAA even implemented the exam in August, so there are bound to be surprises.
- Worry about the weather. According to the FAA’s Remote Pilot-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standards, 11-16 percent of the test is on weather. A good number of the questions on our tests had to do with sUAS operations in different weather conditions. If the answers to the weather-related sample questions online are not clear, be sure to read up on their justifications and understand the reasoning in the FAA study guide or other online resources.
- Study early, understand the materials, and do not simply plan on memorizing the correct answers for the sample questions online. Even if you get the identical questions on exam day, you will get very different answer choices that will require you to apply your knowledge to pick the right answer!
- Be sure that your name is exactly as it appears on your driver’s license when you sign up for the exam. This includes your middle name. If the names do not match when entered into the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system, it may cause long delays in the issuance of your remote pilot certificate.
- After receiving a passing exam score, you must register as a remote pilot using the IACRA website. You may begin your application at any time, but it will take 48 to 72 hours, excluding weekends, before your exam number can be found and associated with your account.
As new hardware (i.e., aircraft, sensors) becomes available, more industry professionals and educators are starting to realize the untapped potentials of sUAS for their fields. In recognition of this development, the FAA has partnered with industry groups such as Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International to clarify sUAS operational rules, and streamline the vetting process for educational and commercial sUAS operators with the new Part 107 rule. Passing the Knowledge Exam is a key step for anyone wishing to operate sUAS commercially in U.S. airspace. The exam helps ensure that operators know the regulations as well as the safe and legal sUAS operational procedures, and could be regarded as a step towards minimizing accidents, increasing operator accountability, and garnering public support for this exciting technology.